The planned Oxford Square development near Elkridge may include almost double the original number of residential units if the county's Zoning Board approves a requested amendment.
The county already has approved 954 units for the 122-acre, mixed-use development in Hanover, but Preston Scheffenacker Properties' David Scheffenacker, head developer of the project, is proposing an additional 822 units be included in the plan.
"We're asking for a density increase," Scheffenacker said. "We're under-utilizing the site by a lot, and an increased density allows us to do a larger mix of unit types, like including townhouses. ... It's a much better plan."
The project must go before the county's planning and zoning boards for amendment, though no date has been scheduled for either. Laura Boone, recording secretary for the planning board, said the discussion would be held no earlier than September.
The project is a transit-oriented development, Scheffenacker said, or TOD, and TOD is meant for high-density projects. The development will have direct access to the Dorsey MARC Rail Station, is situated between Interstates 95 and 295 and Route 100, and is within three miles of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"We're getting rid of sprawl, condensing it on one location, putting it close to transportation," Scheffenacker said.
Howard Johnson, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, said that as long as the development was appropriately managed and supported by the county, the community had no issue with the proposal.
"(As long as) the schools, firefighters, police — all the things necessary to run a municipality — are put in place, the proposal is reasonable," Johnson said.
The first phase of development will only include 450 units, Scheffenacker said, as well as a community center and a new middle school.
"We can only build so many units at a time," he said. "It's going to be a long time before we could ever build all those units. It'll be years and years."
Scheffenacker said groundbreaking is expected in October, with work "beginning in earnest" in the spring of 2013. By the end of next year, he said, the first residences will be complete.
The new middle school, built on 20.2 acres donated by the developer to the school system, along with $4 million to go toward construction costs, is set to open in August 2014. The Board of Education this month approved design plans for the school, and is moving to the construction phase. The school system hopes to bid the project in January 2013.
Scheffenacker said the school, planned to relieve overcrowding at other schools in the region, will not be negatively impacted by the additional residences. Overall, 45 percent of the residences are one-bedroom apartments, he said, and 45 percent are two-bedroom apartments. The other 10 percent, Scheffenacker said, will be a "hodgepodge" of apartments and townhouses.
"Only about 20 percent of (residences in) the project will use the middle school," he said. "We're expecting a lot of single, aspiring young professionals and young families," whose children are still elementary-age.
School construction on track
Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, said middle-school-aged students living in the development would likely be attending the new middle school and elementary-aged students would likely attend either Elkridge Elementary or the new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, scheduled to open next year.
"We're working on that right now, with the elementary school redistricting," he said. "The outcome wouldn't be known until the board votes."
Since the school system does not regulate land use, and the proposal for additional residences will not impact land set aside for the school, Gallihue said the school system's concern is with the effects of the development, and not the development itself.
"Dealing with the effects of development is everyone's concern," he said. "Our specific task is to build the schools we've been directed to build, and conduct the redistricting process to open those schools."
A redistricting plan for the 2013-2014 school year — which takes into account the opening of the 600-seat Ducketts Lane school — is currently being worked on by school system staff and the Attendance Area Committee. The final proposal is set to go before the board this fall, with a board vote scheduled for Nov.15. Redistricting to fill the 662-seat middle school in Oxford Square is set for the following year.
Leslie Kornreich, a Hanover resident and two-time former Board of Education candidate, said she felt no development should be approved for residential construction on the Route 1 corridor until changes are made in the way the school system plans.
Unless there's a plan in place to build more schools faster and sooner, I think it's unacceptable to approve increased residential density," she said.
This type of development, Scheffenacker said, is the future of Maryland.
"If we want to save Maryland, we've got to do transit-oriented development," he said. "This is what the state needs. ... We'll wake up 15 years from now and we won't know where to build."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information.